Fantasticks Steam Punked

If the steampunk concept draws you to The Fantasticks at the Omaha Community Playhouse, well and good. It’s interesting and appealing.

But it shouldn’t overshadow the more surprising accomplishment of director Carl Beck and his cast. They’ve given us far and away the best treatment of this record-setting 52-year-old musical that I’ve ever seen.

And that includes some very good productions, a half dozen of them, going back to the 1960s at the Blackstone Hotel, an earlier Playhouse show, Chanticleer, you name it. Most recently, the University of Nebraska at Omaha gave it some fresh twists but it left me wondering if the long-running creation of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt had lost its charm.

Not so. Not at all. It’s always best in an intimate space, so presenting it in the Howard Drew Theatre put the competing gardens right in the laps of the audience. If you’re the only ones left who haven’t sing the little classic, the fathers of the moonstruck boy and girl have conflicting theories of horticulture: one snips and prunes with manic fervor, the other drowns his plants with a deluge of water.

Ask me again later and I might mention a different cast favorite. I loved Bernie Clark’s forgetful old actor, always a delightful role, and Matt Kelehan’s Mortimer, “the man who dies.” Matthew Uehling as the Mute gave the most presence to the steampunk industrial cogs and gears, and Gordon Krentz and Jonathon Wilhoft did the fathers proud.

It was no surprise that Seth Fox makes a perfect El Gallo, the sly narrator who performs the mock-abduction and sings, “Try to Remember.” But the frosting on the cake of this delicious treat came from the real-life couple playing the girl and boy, Jennifer and Rick Tritz.

She wowed us with her vocals and he not only sang well but gave the character just the right wide-eyed view of coming of age.

All this enthusiasm requires an apology to the three shows opening this weekend. I’d hoped to say more about Julia Hinson, who’ll play Maggie the Cat, with Colton Niedhardt as Big Daddy and Charleen Willoughby as Big Mama in UNO’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Assuage my guilt by seeing them and checking out One for the Road, the Circle Theatre comedy by Willy Russell, who wrote Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.

Then catch the Witching Hour which promises to let you choose which roles the cast plays each performance at the Blue Barn’s Downtown Space.

posted at 11:48 pm
on Monday, February 20th, 2012

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